Doing business internationally is such a prudent business move, there’s almost no excuse for not doing it. Trading abroad opens up a whole new, wider market, giving you, even more, opportunities for success.

A survey from the British Chambers of Commerce found that 43% of businesses have the ambition to grow internationally. Technology enables travel, contact, and financial transactions to be carried out internationally without difficulty, but there is still one important step to take that might cause confusion: the language barrier.

The language barrier remains the number one hurdle to global business success. While there are several ways to break through it, the different methods of translation and interpretation have their own strengths and weaknesses. This means entrepreneurs will have to figure out which one they need when they will need it, and why.

In this article, we unpack the many different ways you can communicate with clients, customers and staff in other languages, and the reasons each one might be right, or wrong, for your business.

Interpretation is best for a personal touch

When thinking about communicating across the language barrier, your mind may first turn to written translation, but for many aspects of business, live interpretation can be hugely advantageous.

Whilst translation typically refers to written communication, interpretation is the act of translating verbally face-to-face. This can be hugely advantageous for a startup trying to raise venture capital from foreign investors. Presenting your business, and the opportunities it holds for investors will be far more effective if done in the investor’s native language. In-person meetings, as Forbes notes, are also far more effective than the modern, high-tech alternatives.

Even within interpretation, there are several routes you can take. The most complex, but possibly most effective, is simultaneous interpretation. As defined by London Translations, simultaneous interpretation involves an interpreter listening live to a conversation, and translating it in real time via microphones and headphones. This kind of interpretation is frequently used for important international business meetings, and even at the UN General Assembly.

Other forms of interpretation that could be used for face-to-face business discussions include whispered interpreting, also known as chuchotage, which is similar to simultaneous interpreting but involves less equipment. Meanwhile, consecutive interpreting gives time for pauses to allow an interpreter to translate for the other speaker. Consecutive interpreting might be easier to set up than simultaneous or whispering, but its nature does not allow for the kinds of rapid-paced, free-flowing conversation a business meeting might need.

Professional translation services are essential for business materials

Talking to potential partners and investors is only one aspect of doing business internationally. Perhaps a larger part of the process is translating any marketing or advertising materials into the languages of your foreign target markets.

Technological developments have made text translation simpler and more convenient than ever, but they haven’t necessarily made it more accurate. You only need a slim knowledge of a second language to realize that popular free online translation tools like Google Translate take a word-for-word approach that often leads to awkward errors in context or idiomatic phrasing.

In conversation with friends, these errors are merely amusing. But in business, they can be crucial. Bad translations have caused PR disasters for many companies. When KFC expanded into China, for example, they translated “Finger-lickin’ good” as “Eat your fingers off.”

It’s not just clumsy literal translations like that which can cause global business problems though. Lack of contextual and cultural knowledge can be an issue too. For instance, Colgate once launched a toothpaste they called Cue in France. They did this without the knowledge that Cue was a notorious pornographic magazine in that country; this would be the equivalent of a French toothpaste launching on the US market with the name Playboy.

To avoid mistakes like these, it is best to find skilled professional translators who can bring native knowledge of a language and target market to their work. This way, your business’ marketing materials, brochures or websites can be translated accurately and appropriately, and you will be one step closer to global domination.

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